September 2008


Wish You Were Here…

If last year was any guide, then the best Whiney Expatriate Blogger Meet-Up report will be one written by Ian in Hamburg.

So it is some humility (perhaps not as a writer but as a speaker of several memorable lines throughout the day), that I offer up some thoughts about Friday’s events.

I woke up early and decided to see if I could catch the 6:46 departure which would put me into Bremen two hours early, which I successfully caught, and after making an improbably tight connection, I was in Bremen at 10:44. Amazingly my hotel, which had every right to tell me to come back later, had a room ready and let me in, which means I can highly recommend the Hotel Bremer Haus.

The Museum

The Museum

From there I met Regansblog’s Sarah and Cliff, stumbled upon Germany Doesn’t Suck’s J, and then greeted Heidelbergerin plus one. We then ventured off to the Deutsches Auswanderer Haus (German Emigration Center) in Bremerhaven.

Honestly, I cannot really capture the museum very well here—but it’s one of the finest museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. This might seem like an unwelcome comparison, but from start to finish, the museum is as well thought out as the Creation Museum. From start to finish, the museum has a story to tell, and with some creative thinking, the museum managed to engage all six of us. Whether it was giving us an immigrant to follow or rigging information so it would only appear whilst you were sitting on the head, the museum educated and entertained.

I was given Richard Morgner, who emigrated in 1954, whose boarding pass I faithfully carried throughout my journey through the museum—after waiting in the third-class waiting room, walking along the docks and spotting a rat, we paused in the “Gallery of the 7 million”, where we could learn individual stories. It was an impressive space, a file-room of sorts where you could open a thousand files and learn about individuals who left Germany via Bremerhaven for a better life elsewhere. I was caught off guard by how late emigration happened—until the early 1970s!

Lots of drawers to open!

Lots of drawers to open!

After opening a few drawers and examining a few of the highlighted stories, I found my man’s display. As a youth he’d been a baker, but then he learned how to weld and left Germany for the States in 1954. While listening to his story (the museum has an amazing audio system), I casually opened a number of drawers from the post-Weimar Republic era, and found that the museum took Nazis right on: people leaving because of a crappy economy and persecution by the Nazis was not overlooked.

Up the gangway and onto the ship, we were presented with a series of rooms examining life on several different types of ships (mostly uncomfortable). To help accent the experience, the ship-board floor was tilting slightly. It was the only thing in the museum that I did not especially like.

At the end of the trip we were in America, and, as third class passengers, we had to go through Ellis Island, where there were some odd questions asked (my hair and eye color?!). Regardless I was admitted—until I went through the interview again, this time having little money, illness, and having once received welfare. This time I was sent back home.

The last stop was a room where we could find out the rest of the story—my emigrant had a great life in the states, becoming an entrepreneur, owning a fleet of cars, and learning to fly. Unfortunately he died in 1999 in a plane crash. Shortly after this, Sarah realized that the room was filled with American phonebooks, which provided an awful lot of entertainment.

There was some more to the museum, a couple of nice movies, information about Germans in Argentina, ancestral research, and a gift-shop. Outside we enjoyed some tea, looked at the harbor area, and then returned to Bremen.

One on top of another...

One on top of another...

In Bremen we met-up with Letters Home’s Ian, and headed into the old city, where I snapped a photo of Bremen’s best known statue, before we retired to a nearby restaurant, which as I vaguely recall, was named John Benton.

It was a lovely restaurant and a lovely time. I would say that dinner was the essential Whiney Expatriate Blogger Meetup experience—a time to share stories and observations and spread devious misinformation. Perhaps I am under a false impression, but I think everybody had an excellent time. After an excellent meal (I had lamb cutlets), My Life in Germany arrived, bringing her child and some excellent toys along with her.

We lasted until 11p, when we finally paid and headed out. Sadly my 5:45a rising, combined with a long exciting day and four beers, I returned to my hotel realizing that although I had a bit of energy that it would probably not last. I was asleep just after midnight.

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